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Bucks Coaching Update: “Bud or Bust” in Milwaukee?

Milwaukee has been searching for a permanent solution at head coach, and might be another step closer to making a decision.

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Atlanta Hawks v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Bucks are (or ought to be) the hottest job on the market for aspiring NBA head coaches. The team made it known that they would be conducting a thorough search, and the first round of interviews included recognizable names that made many fans (but not all, to be clear) excited. That list included:

  • Mike Budenholzer (former HC in Atlanta)
  • Steve Clifford (former HC in Charlotte)
  • Ettore Messina (assistant in San Antonio)
  • Monty Williams (Vice POBO in San Antonio)
  • Joe Prunty (current HC in Milwaukee)
  • David Blatt (free agent, previously HC in Cleveland)
  • Becky Hammon (assistant in San Antonio)

The names on this list provide a variety of strengths and weaknesses; each possibility has distinct pros and significant cons. Some fans (including yours truly) were underwhelmed by the absence of up-and-coming visionaries like Nick Nurse or Chris Finch, but we have to keep in mind that this list is based on third-party reports that does not include the entirety of the Bucks’ candidates.

But regardless of how wide the Bucks’ net was, it seems that Mike Budenholzer is the biggest fish that Jon Horst is interested in “tossing in the cooler” (aka meeting with ownership) for a second look.

As a coaching candidate, Budenholzer has a good track record of success in Atlanta, a solid pedigree from his time in San Antonio, and appears to be a decent in-game tactician. There are a number of ways that Coach Bud could be an upgrade from the previous (outgoing?) coaching staff, and few (if any) discernible downsides. He’s better than fine, and perhaps most importantly a reasonable bet to at least meet Bucks fans’ expectations.

But once again, with Bud as the clear favorite on Monday, the Bucks found their routine personnel hiring process bogged down in speculation. This time, though, it’s through no fault of their own. You see, another fishing boat has swooped in on the Bucks’ route (this analogy is dead in the water), as the Toronto Raptors entered into the mix with the firing of Dwane Casey.

Our very good friends Eric and Frank had a detailed conversation about what Bud’s perspective might be between Toronto and Milwaukee, and while both franchises have reasons why they’re an attractive landing spot, Toronto appears to be in significantly better position than the Bucks to (at this specific point) navigate their coaching search.

To be clear, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill Bucks fatalism. Milwaukee did not mess things up because they are destined to mess things up, and truthfully there is no specific mess to speak of. Rather, my worries are an extrapolation of a one-line excerpt from Matt Velazquez’s Journal Sentinel article:

The expectation was that general manager Jon Horst, who is running the search process, would recommend three or four finalists for the second round of interviews that would include ownership.

The interview process has been generally fine, if not perhaps overly deliberate. Jon Horst and the Bucks have been playing their cards close to the vest, but the timeline of Toronto’s sudden opening when overlaid onto the Bucks’ coaching search raises an important question: is Mike Budenholzer the only finalist for the Milwaukee job?

Look at it this way: the Raptors fired Casey on Friday, after the Bucks had already interviewed Budenholzer. Bud was then approached by Toronto over the weekend (per Woj), and their conversations continue parallel to the Bucks bringing Bud in for another meeting on Tuesday. Over the course of these three-plus days, not a single other candidate has been reported as a finalist for the Milwaukee job.

My guess is the source of most of the existing reporting regarding the Raptors’ and Bucks’ interest in Bud is likely coming from Bud himself. He has a clear interest in gaining leverage by making each team’s overtures to him public; if Toronto wants him badly enough, they’ll have to make it worth his while to break off negotiations with Milwaukee. Milwaukee, to their credit, did not immediately produce a dotted line for Bud to sign on before they had completed their first round of interviews.

But the opportunity to regain leverage would have been over the weekend, when Toronto got involved. Did the Bucks want to maintain some sense of fidelity with Budenholzer, or did Jon Horst want to maintain the tight-lipped approach he had taken through the process thus far? Or, as I fear, did the Bucks decline leaking the identity of any other finalists because there were no other finalists to speak of?

Monday is only half-over and the interview is scheduled for Tuesday, so the idea that Milwaukee is married to Budenholzer could be quickly and easily debunked. However, it would be intensely problematic if the Bucks actually are in a “Bud or bust” position at this point in their search, particularly if he is poached by the Raptors. As always, we will wait to hear more about this hiring process, and see how things shake out.